Friday, January 8, 2016

An Instructional Conversation Worth Having

Many times well-intentioned practices can fall short of their potential.  The yearly professional development goal setting process has been just this sort of practice until this school year at MRJH.  Because of the top-down, directive format used, it became something that we did TO teachers instead of FOR teachers. Traditionally, we used a prescribed approach in which administrators provided the goal with a specific percentage score to be reached on a STAAR exam in their content area.  Teachers of courses that were not STAAR tested set goals based upon the percentage of students passing their classes for the year.  The activities that were identified to support reaching their goals were also supplied to the teachers. These activities reflected the campus focus for the year.  In an effort to simplify the measurement of the goal by a percentage score, we created a process that was perfunctory in nature.  The goal-setting process became a compliance piece with minimal teacher buy-in.  Our goal was to create a reflective process for teachers that was based on their growth needs.
We have been working on the development of standards-based learning within our Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop models in language arts.  For the past two years, that department has been creating proficiency scales based upon the TEKS.  These proficiency scales are rubrics that describe a continuum of four competencies ranging from novice to exemplary.  Our teachers confer with students based upon the scales.  This allows for clear articulation of where students are in relation to the standard and provides support and direction to achieve the next level of proficiency.  The use of these scales with students has transformed our language arts instruction.  Teachers have a deep understanding of where students are in their learning.  Students develop self-awareness of their current skill set and have a clear plan for growth.  To watch our master teachers confer with students is a thing of instructional beauty!  As an administrative team, this process appealed to us and we made the decision to model our goal setting process with teachers after it.

If you have followed my blog, you are aware that we have an instructional model at MRJH we refer to as The Accomplished Teaching Model.  The model has three primary areas of focus.  These include quality first time instruction, content alignment, and a passion for student success and subject area.  For the development of the scale, we began to dissect the quality first time instruction area of our model.  As a Title One eligible campus, we focus on doing things right the first time, instructionally speaking.  The major areas that we concentrate on are clear learning objectives, bell-to-bell engagement, high level questioning, using technology as a tool, differentiation, and the use of assessment to guide instruction.  For the purposes of goal setting, my administrative team created a rubric that specifically described the competencies in each of the six areas at four levels of a continuum.  We classified these levels as novice, emerging, proficient, and exemplary.  We spent many hours involved in instructional conversation as a team.  In my opinion this is PLC work at its finest.  Because of the collaborative process used in creating this document, my administrative team has great clarity about what quality first time instruction looks like.  We entitled this rubric our Accomplished Teaching Proficiency Scale. 

With the scale developed we began discussing how we would use it for teacher goal-setting.  We wanted to mirror the conferring model our language arts department was using with students.  Ultimately each of the administrative staff provided a copy of the scale to the instructional staff they supervised.  We asked the teachers to read the scale and reflect upon where they were on the continuum for each area of quality first time instruction.  Administrators then sat with each staff member to discuss their self-identified competencies.  We worked to ask probing questions.  After all areas were discussed, we asked our staff to identify two areas that they would like to become more masterful at.  These areas became the focus of their professional development goals for the year. Without exception, our teachers shared that this new goal setting process was more meaningful than what we had done in the past.  My administrative team enjoyed playing the role of coach as we explored each area of the model with our teachers.

Our new goal setting process supports deep alignment with our instructional model and sets the expectation for teachers to grow through reflective practice.  I believe that this process supports teachers in becoming masters at their craft.  These are instructional conversations worth having.